EU takes US off safe travel list; backs travel restrictions

Coronavirus

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union recommended Monday that its 27 nations reinstate restrictions on tourists from the U.S. because of rising coronavirus infections there.

The decision by the European Council to remove the U.S. from a safe list of countries for nonessential travel reverses advice that it gave in June, when the bloc recommended lifting restrictions on U.S. travelers before the summer tourism season.

The guidance is nonbinding, however, and U.S. travelers should expect a mishmash of travel rules across the continent.

“The EU has made a decision that, given the surge in COVID cases that we are seeing in the US, that they want to ban what they are referring to as non-essential travel, leisure travel,” said Julie Coker, president and CEO of the San Diego Travel Tourism Authority.

The EU also removed Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro and North Macedonia from the list.

The EU has no unified COVID-19 tourism policy and national EU governments have the authority to decide whether they keep their borders open to U.S. tourists. Possible restrictions could include quarantines, further testing requirements upon arrival or even a total ban on all nonessential travel from the U.S.

More than 15 million Americans a year visited Europe before the coronavirus crisis, and new travel restrictions could cost Europe billions.

The recommendation doesn’t apply to Britain, which formally left the EU at the beginning of the year and opened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S. earlier this month.

In the end, it’s up to each country to make the call. Travel agents recommend checking the website sherpatravel.com, which allows travelers to input an itinerary and see results based on the vaccination status of the passenger. 

“I would encourage people to get trip insurance,” Coker said. “This is one of those times when it might be important.”

The United States remains on Britain’s “amber” travel list, meaning that fully vaccinated adults arriving from the U.S. to the U.K. don’t have to self-isolate. A COVID-19 test is required three days before arrival in the U.K. and another test is needed two days after arriving.

Meanwhile, the United States has yet to reopen its own borders to EU tourists, despite calls from the bloc for the Biden administration to lift its ban. Adalbert Jahnz, the European Commission spokesperson for home affairs, said Monday that the EU’s executive arm remained in discussions with the U.S. administration as both sides have so far failed to find a reciprocal approach.

In addition to the epidemiological criteria used to determine the countries for which restrictions should be lifted, the European Council said that “reciprocity should also be taken into account on a case by case basis.”

The European Council updates the safe travel list based on criteria relating to coronavirus infection levels. It gets reviewed every two weeks. The threshold for being on the EU list is having not more than 75 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days.

Last week in the U.S. new coronavirus cases averaged over 152,000 a day, turning the clock back to the end of January, and the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients was around 85,000, a number not seen since early February.

U.S. coronavirus deaths have been over 1,200 a day for several days, seven times higher than they were in early July.

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